In 1927, President and Mrs. Coolidge had a busy summer in Rapid City, South Dakota, a part of the country unfamiliar to both of these Vermont natives. It was here that he received a Native-American warrior’s headdress now displayed at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum (CCPLM). Coolidge was president in 1924 when citizenship was granted to all of the native population. A local Boy Scout troop presented him
with a cowboy outfit complete with hat and chaps. In early August, the president delivered his famous one line news release that startled the nation by saying, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.”
Lesser known today is that Frank Clifford Ashford painted two portraits of President Coolidge and two portraits of Grace Coolidge that summer at the State Lodge in Custer State Park where they resided. Two of the artworks hang at the CCPLM, one of the president in the Native-American headdress and the other, a profile of the first lady in a red dress. The other two works remain hanging at the lodge where they were originally painted. In those, the couple is in more formal dress.
Ashford, born in Iowa, worked as a farm hand on his father’s farm in Rondell, Brown County, SD as late as 1900. During the next three decades, he worked as an artist in Paris and New York where he studied, exhibited and is known to have painted landscapes as well as portraits. In New York, he was a student of William Merritt Chase.
After Ashford’s works were exhibited in the Salon of the Societe des Artistes Francais in 1912, and both at the Chicago Art Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 1913, he showed a painting titled "Marjorie" at the National Academy of Design in 1920. The latter may have been a portrait of his wife, Marjorie Rickel, whom he married in South Dakota in 1918 and divorced by the time of the US Census in 1930.
From 1930 until his death in 1960, he resided and worked primarily in South Dakota.